Tuesday, 10 June 2014


Guest blog by Will Shaw

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, the bizarre events surrounding the Birmingham ‘Trojan Horse’ schools should have finally made clear that Ofsted exists to give the government the inspection reports it requires to support whatever its  schools strategy happens to be at any particular time. If the inspectors don’t come up with the right report they can be sent back into schools until they do. This is not usually necessary as the inspectors know what is expected of them and they dutifully supply it. Their lack of integrity or principled independence of thought can be measured by their deafening silence in objecting to this role over the years  and the extreme rarity of any individual resignations.

Ofsted inspections are a key weapon in the government’s overriding aim of ultimately turning  all (state) schools into centrally-run academies and  taking them out of local democratic accountability.  Once Ofsted supplies the government with the ‘appropriate’ inspection report on a school, the next stage is special measures, the imposition from outside of a non-accountable IEB  and forced academisation. This is the stage Copland has been at since last September. 

Obviously, this stage in the process has to appear  to be both necessary and beneficial and it’s Ofsted again which is used to show how much schools like Copland  improve as a result of the government’s wise policies. At Copland, if the inspectors are to be believed, the beneficial results of government policy were almost instantaneous. Their report after last November’s visit spoke of  the school having ‘turned a corner’ and ‘students making better progress’. It continued ‘ teaching …..attendance and punctuality are improving’, ‘students are keen to learn’, ‘ there has been a sea-change in the pace of improvement’, ‘the interim headteacher and associate headteacher and very strong governance of the IEB are driving this change well’ and so on; and all this after only 6 weeks! The nature of the narrative had been set. 

March 2014’s Copland report took the hagiography to the next level:  ‘… the  headteacher of St Paul’s Way is an astute Chair of the Interim Executive Board….. IEB members are asking the right questions about the school’s performance.. balanced in the rigour of challenge and in the quality of their support. Senior leaders are ‘stepping up to the plate’ more …. having greater impact on the work of the school ……... responding well to the high level of challenge being laid down by school leaders and the IEB... ……more accurate understanding of students’ needs  ……..higher expectations for students……  behaviour is much improved and the school is a more respectful place…… zero tolerance to poor behaviour … ….. an attitude of respect between and among students and staff……more confident and articulate learners. …….a richer quality of teaching…..teaching is better… lessons are more structured’. Clearly carried away with the spirit of the thing, the reporting inspector at one point came over all Mills and Boon and, revealing  a bureaucrat’s tin ear for the speech patterns of 21st century London youth,   wrote this:

 ‘One student, capturing the views of many, said, ‘We can see hope now.’ This new-found optimism is palpable’.  

 (I like to imagine the inspector considering whether to  attribute the final 6 words to this ‘student’ as well, but wisely deciding that this might be pushing it a bit). 

It’s difficult not to laugh (if only at the writers’ belief that they could get away with this tosh) but many teachers and pupils have worked very hard at Copland this year and it’s a pity that any truth which these Ofsted reports might contain is tarnished by the relentless gung-ho bollocks  of the rest of it. But then, establishing  the truth is not at all what these inspections are about. How could they be when 2 inspectors come in for a day and a half and watch 10 or 15 minutes of a few lessons?  No, as in Birmingham their function is to provide bogus supporting evidence for actions already decided on. In the case of Copland, we are being provided with the  narrative of the ‘saving’ of a school by Gove, forced academisation, ‘tough’ but necessary action, (60 staff and half the curriculum axed), and finally the salvation that is The Ark Rescue.  

It’s a satisfying narrative  so far and it will be interesting to see how far the Ofsted inspectors think they can push it when the report on their imminent final visit comes out in a few weeks time.  As the purpose of the report is pre-determined and as the inspectors know what is expected of them (and  also know that their continuing employment depends on their coming up with the goods), the report  might as well have been written last September. If it was, I hope they don’t change anything if they , by chance, should come across this blog. And if they’re looking for further fictional inspiration, what better place than in the sort of book that, if he’d ever read it, Michael Gove would surely have banned, if only for the fact that it isn’t even really a decent, proper, stout English novel but rather some thin, poncey, foreign-sounding thing called a ‘novella’: Animal Farm.

“It has become usual in Wembley to give Mr Gove, Michael Pavey, the IEB, the Interim Headteacher and the Associate Headteacher  the credit for every successful achievement and every stroke of good fortune at the school. You will often hear one pupil remark to another, “Under the guidance of our Senior Leadership Team  I have progressed  five levels in six months” or two teachers, enjoying a drink at the staffroom water-cooler, will exclaim, “thanks to the leadership of Headteacher  Marshall and  Associate Headteacher John, how excellent this water tastes!”...” (With apologies to  George Orwell).
The next Copland Ofsted visit is ‘imminent’  and the inspector’s report will be published in a few week’s time. But please remember, and thanks to Martin, you read it here first.


Anonymous said...

Spot on. The surprising thing is it's taken so long for people to work this out. Schools go along with Ofsted if they get a good report and they 're too worried about the repercussions to complain about a bad one.

Anonymous said...

It's the gutlessness that's depressing. When did you last hear of anyone resigning on a point of principle in education? When do you hear of Heads resisting what they're instructed to do from above and attempting to protect their staff from the consequences of government policy? How do they happily embrace every dumb initiative handed down to them and then merrily embrace the completely opposite and contradictory change of direction a year later? And then block promotions of staff who are not prepared to follow them in the same unprincipled u-turns. What ever happened to the decent people? Or even just the ones with some balls?

Anonymous said...

It would be very pleasing to see Ofsted report the conflict of interest of Baroness Morgan and Ark décision should be révisées !

Anonymous said...

I think that looking after your own career prospects by always keeping your bosses happy no matter what the consequences on those below you, is called the 'kissing up and pissing down' style of management. Where it is allowed to become the dominant culture the result is the ascendancy of the spineless, the self-seeking and the unprincipled.
Look around at who runs things. Make sense?